Where the West Be­gins

Trains Are the Way to Go

That's China - - Contents - Text by / Han­nah Lund

西出阳关无故人

In the east, we’re proud to say that we live where the po­etry hap­pens. But if you head out west via train, that’s where the po­etry re­ally starts to jump. For Spring Fes­ti­val, I headed out to Chengdu from Hangzhou. I wanted to pin­point the mo­ment that the canals dis­ap­peared and the west be­gan. Of course, it’s not that straight­for­ward.

The land stays taut, farms and fields rak­ing over the hori­zon. And then, it’s as though the map of China crin­kles like an ac­cor­dion, and moun­tains be­gin to spike up and out.

It starts with the fa­mil­iar wet­lands, canals, and low­ly­ing fields around Hangzhou. They sprawl, stretch, and glaze into the hori­zon in those dreamy, wil­low-laden hours po­ets dream about. Sparkling wa­ters, ta­bles and benches by the lake… these are the im­ages of beauty etched into what China is all about. In the east, we’re proud to say that we live where the po­etry hap­pens. But if you head out west via train, that’s where the po­etry re­ally starts to jump. For Spring Fes­ti­val, I headed out to Chengdu from Hangzhou. I wanted to pin­point the mo­ment that the canals dis­ap­peared and the west be­gan. Of course, it’s not that straight­for­ward. The land stays taut, farms and fields rak­ing over the hori­zon. And then, it’s as though the map of China crin­kles like an ac­cor­dion, and moun­tains be­gin to spike up and out. Where they came from, I couldn’t tell. It hap­pened grad­u­ally. Slopes be­com­ing hills, hills be­com­ing bluffs, bluffs mor­ph­ing into the mon­sters jut­ting, jagged-toothed into the clouds. On the sides of the tracks, low houses, boys stand­ing on tin roofs watch­ing our progress. I wanted to wave, but they were al­ready be­hind us, dis­ap­pear­ing into the

nd val­leys around. “So beau­ti­ful,” I said to another pas­sen­ger. She nod­ded and com­mented that she’d seen it be­fore, Chengdu be­ing her home­town. That’s the fun of trains. Every­one rides for dif­fer­ent rea­sons: head­ing home, leav­ing home, trav­el­ing to a new home. Or just wax­ing poetic for fools like me. “We’re go­ing home for va­ca­tion,” a group of stu­dents told me. They were kind enough to share their sun­flower seeds, though I couldn’t eat them with the adept crunch they were ca­pa­ble of. “It’s Spring Fes­ti­val, af­ter all. Why aren’t you go­ing home?” Other pas­sen­gers, like me, were head­ing out for a while. One, an artist seek­ing dif­fer­ent sub­jects to cap­ture. Another a stu­dent trav­el­ing with a cou­ple friends. Another a solo trav­eler like me. Even­tu­ally, amid the food-cart creak­ing along with fruit, drinks, wind-up toys, tow­els, crack­ers, break­fast, rice, any­thing and ev­ery­thing a pas­sen­ger could crave (or not), we leaned against the glass again as the moun­tains peaked and swept away into the basin that is Chengdu. In the win­ter, the grass is one shade less than tan­ta­liz­ing green, but still a shock from the fields I’d left. The moun­tains al­most pink in the gen­tle sun­light, the val­leys and rivers turquoise while rocks sway with the wa­ter’s pulse. A train is slow, rick­ety, and some­times a lit­tle too long (try 19 hours stand­ing ticket!), but they are al­ways worth it to see the change of the land and the sigh of re­lief on other pas­sen­gers. Whether the start of an ad­ven­ture, or the end of one. Trains are the way to go.

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